In my seminars and articles, I frequently preach “stress management,” and I always talk about exercise and nutritional methods to manage stress. Today, for the first time, I’ll focus on the logistical and psychological side of stress management.
The way I deal with stress is quite simple: I’ve had my emotions and feelings surgically extracted. Or maybe I was just born without them, I’m not sure. I might just be a cyborg, synthesized in a Soviet-era laboratory. But if you don’t have the delight of going through that kind of (fictional) surgery, I’ll teach you some other ways to manage it.
Method #1: Identify the Stressor
Sometimes, stress is just present. You feel stressed and anxious even though you can’t quite put your finger on it. The “not knowing” is more stressful than whatever the actual situation is.
So, just think about it and articulate precisely what’s stressing you out. What exactly about your situation is stressful?
For example, if you’re studying for an important exam or working on a project at work, then you might identify the stress concerns failing that exam or doing a bad job and not being able to get the career you desire or promotion you were looking for.
Simply identifying the stressor makes you less stressed. Rather than feeling big and scary, you’ve now “boxed it in.” Now that the stress has a form or shape, you can do something about it. Which brings us to…
Method #2: Make a Plan
Now that your stress has a shape, make a plan to solve the problem. It could be a very simple, one-sentence plan. But just knowing what to do about it reduces the stress even more.
For instance, let’s say your stressor is financial problems. You’ve identified that. Now, make a plan for how to either get more money or spend less. Do you need to skip your morning coffee? Do you need to get a better job? Do you need to sell something? Do you need to start a side business?
Just the act of making a plan that you believe you can follow will reduce your stress even more. And step-by-step working through that plan helps chip away at the stress. Making small, measurable progress is very helpful.
Method #3: Focus on What You Can Control
Some people want to control everything and help everyone. They want to solve world hunger, improve the climate, stop wars, and more. Little do they realize that they can’t control some things.
A simple technique to use is ask, “Can I do anything about this?” If the answer is “no,” then forget about it. Did you watch the news on TV, and now you’re stressed out? Can you do anything about it? No? Then forget about it. Maybe even skip the news because there are rarely reports of anything good. And the stuff that’s really important – that you can actually do something about? Inevitably, someone who does watch the news will tell you.
If you can’t control it, don’t worry about it. Psychologists call this “having an internal locus of control.” People who have too much of an external locus of control feel helpless and have given up before making an effort to do anything. That’s stressful too.
For example, when I tell my diabetic grandmother about all the benefits of exercise for blood sugar control, she completely ignores it. She believes there’s nothing she can do for her diabetes. Has she tried exercising? No. Yet, she believes that it won’t help. It makes me want to repeatedly hit my head against the wall. Don’t be that person.
Method #4: What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
Another easy-to-use strategy is simply asking yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, and often, even the worst-case scenario is not that bad. Maybe there aren’t any consequences, or the consequences just aren’t that severe. But if you don’t ask that question, you don’t make it obvious. So just ask the question.
Method #5: Plan to Be Early
How much of people’s stress is due to poor punctuality? For some people, it’s a lot. Why is traffic so stressful for some people? Because they’re running late for work, to a meeting, to get home. You can’t change the traffic situation, but you can change how early you leave to get to your next destination. And it’s far better to overestimate your time to get to your destination than to underestimate it.
Whenever I go anywhere, I make a plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. If I’m doing a speaking engagement, I usually plan on arriving about 30 minutes early. This way, if there’s unexpected traffic, or an accident, or construction, it’s no big deal. I still have a time gap for a detour. But if I was to plan on arriving the very minute that my next event was due to begin and there are unexpected delays, well, that’s stressful.
And for someone as fussy about time as I am, if I’m on time and the person I’m meeting is late, it makes my blood boil. To me, on the receiving end of a person being late, whether it’s a potential employee, a current employee, a client, a friend, a family member, or a date, I’m fuming. So, don’t be late when you’re meeting someone, that person may be as precise about it as I am.
Method #6: Look for the Positive
Even when something bad happens, there’s a silver lining in anything. There’s always something good that comes out of a bad situation. And although it may be difficult to look for what’s beneficial/advantageous in a bad situation, it can be very helpful to reduce stress.
For example, a breakup or a divorce really sucks. But the silver lining might be that you no longer need to consult your partner about every decision you need to make. Compromise is no longer necessary. You get your way every time, because it’s just you. You might even find yourself with more money.
Another example: you got fired from your job. Bad situation. But what’s the silver lining? Maybe now you can look for a better job. You might find something with better pay, better benefits, better coworkers or management, a better location, etc. Stay positive even in trying times.
Method #7: Distraction
Fortunately, we humans can only think about one thing at a time. Often, a distraction to occupy your mind will be enough, so that when you go back to thinking about the stressor, you can actually think about it more clearly and more strategically.
What are some healthy ways to distract yourself?
If you’re reading this article, it’ll come as no surprise to you that exercise is a pretty good way. But the key is that it has to be exercise that is distracting. If you’re just doing low-intensity cardio, you can walk and think about your stressor at the same time. But if it’s higher intensity and requires focus/memory, it works as a pretty good distraction.
Igor Klibanov | Contributing Writer
Igor Klibanov has been named one of the Top 5 personal trainers in Toronto. He’s written four books on fitness, including Interviews with Personal Trainers and Unlimited Progress, and has done over 250 seminars about exercise and nutrition for some of Canada’s biggest corporations. For more information visit www.fitnesssolutionsplus.ca.